Letters from Ukraine: 9/7/22 – Bombed

George Gittoes recounts a disheartening bomb blast in Odessa, and prepares for upcoming work with local artists critical of Putin's invasion.

Around ten thirty tonight a huge explosion rocked our building. We are in a three-hundred-year-old building residence – not a hotel but part of the old city with a courtyard and carriageway. Hellen chose it from the internet because it looked bohemian.

Our neighbour is also named George, and is a soft spoken and very witty IT specialist who works from home. His wife loves art, and they have two young teenage daughters and dogs. One dog is very old and was shaking from the sound of the bombs. He is a Jack Russell like our dog, Snug. 

There is an enforced curfew. Everyone should be hunkered down in their basements, but human curiosity is such that all our neighbours came outside. George looked up an app and discovered that an oil depot had been hit and that is why the explosion was so massive.

We could all smell the burning chemicals in the air but not see the fire.

I was able to imagine being back in Australia, living near an oil refinery like Kurnell, being shaken by a blast and going outside with to share the shock with others. 

When we arrived in Odessa, I asked George if he thought the Russians could do to this city what they have done to Mariupol, and he said, “No, there are too many old buildings that are too important to Putin. After St. Petersburg this was the capital before Moscow; he would never destroy Odessa.” I asked him again tonight and he said, “The unthinkable is happening, the war is on our doorsteps.”

Hellen and I live near the small South Coast village of Gerringong. Everyone knows everyone and we are all friends. Standing with George and his wife and kids and dogs was no different to being outside our place with our neighbours, during the bushfires, wondering if the flames would reach our homes.

Hellen and I went back to our bedroom, which we are calling our bunker. It is in the basement and for the first time since arriving in Ukraine, we felt deeply unnerved. The courage of the people here is astonishing, but the overwhelming firepower of the Russian military is undeniable. 

The previous afternoon I had been outside on our balcony, drawing when I heard the low swoosh of a missile. I looked up and saw it disintegrate, taken out by and anti-missile missile. I was amazed that something so sleek and small and moving so fast could be successfully targeted. That was very reassuring, but tonight’s bomb blast is the opposite. 

Today was 9 May. In the morning we watched Putin delivering his speech for the celebration of the victory over the Germans in World War II. Everyone in Ukraine with a working TV would have been seeing this vast army with its weapons, proudly standing at attention, and seeming invincible, while Putin declared that the new war in Ukraine was to protect their beloved motherland against foreign invaders. I remembered when I was in Nicaragua filming Bullets of the Poets and Ronald Regan gave a speech declaring the need to support the contra-fight or the US could be overrun by Central American Communists. 

I needed a good night’s sleep because tomorrow I am filming interviews with a group of artists who are creating war art highly critical of Putin and the Russian invasion.  It will be a film challenge because most do not want to be identified fearing retaliation if the Russians succeed in taking over Odessa. It would be an unimaginable crime to see this city destroyed and people like our neighbours, homeless. 

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